Adam Harvey is a Brooklyn-based visual artist and technologist working at the interstices of photography, surveillance and privacy. Prior to completing a masters at NYU on the Interactive Telecommunications Program, his experience as a party photographer was a lesson in social behaviour around cameras, through which he realised he was more interested in the culture of photography than the act itself. Developing on his previous work exploring the aesthetics of privacy by mixing high level security with fashion and art, his latest project Stealth Wear made in collaboration with the designer Johanna Bloomfield, is a collection of counter-surveillance garments featuring: the XX-shirtwhich protects the heart from the harmful effects of X-rays, Anti-Drone wear that blocks thermal imaging technology used widely by UAVs, and the OFF Pocket madeto instantly zero out phone signal. Adam Harvey talks to Mairi Hare in advance of a exhibtion of his work hosted by PRIMITIVE London at Tanks new studio.
Mairi Hare: How did the Stealth Wear project come about?
Adam Harvey: The best analogy to describe my motivation for this project is to look back at an important innovation in clothing from Levi Strauss, the rivet. This was added to pants to make them more rugged, which was useful to the miners who wore them. Today, the mining industry has found a new type of currency: your personal data. Of which you leave trails everywhere you go with your smart phone. As an advocate of privacy, I imagined/dreamed of having a pair of pants with an ‘off’ and an ‘on’ pocket. To do this, I had to find a metallised fabric that could block the phone's signal. It was then that I discovered the potential for metallised fabrics both for the OFF Pocket and theAnti-Drone garments.
MH: Could you describe the other piece in the collection, the XX-shirt.
AH: This project explores another type of surveillance, X-rays. Originally I wanted to create designs that would only show up on TSA scanners, but I felt this idea was misguided; for the people that employ surveillance technologies are not the ones we can blame if we don't like it. The problem is systemic, not individual. Instead of giving up on this project, I decided to use what I learned about X-ray imaging to create a garment that attenuates X-rays around the heart region. The XX-shirt is printed with a semi-conductive metal to block out X-rays, functioning in the same way as sunscreen, which uses titanium dioxide to block UV rays.
MH: Being a law-abiding citizen and having been a party photographer, what makes you so critical and uncomfortable with surveillance cameras in public?
AH: As a party photographer, I spent a lot of time photographing people who didn't always want to be photographed. What happened next, circa 2005-2007, was the explosion of digital photos online. Party photos were especially fun to look at and be in, but then I realized that in a few years bots would be scraping the visual web and mining them for information and possibly incriminating evidence. This spurred me to make the Anti-paparazzi Clutch and CV Dazzle. These previous projects are both meant for controlling your identity in a world where everyone is a photographer.
MH: What would you add to Susan Sontag’s On Photography if it were to be made more up to date?
AH: I would love to see a chapter about how the internet has changed what it means to be photographed today. And maybe another about how photography becomes more interesting when you give more power to the subject of the image rather than take it away.
text by Mairi Hare